Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis


Justification of Red List Category
This species has been listed as Near Threatened on the basis that it is suspected that it will undergo a moderately rapid population decline over the next three generations owing to the impacts of diclofenac use in livestock, a drug that has caused drastic declines in other Gyps species and appears to be fatal to this species when ingested. The distribution of this species and existing efforts to reduce diclofenac use may limit the impacts.

Population justification
Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001) suggest that a six-figure population would be realistic. The population in the Tibetan Plateau, which consists of c.80% of the breeding population, has been estimated at c.230,000 individuals, equating to c.153,000 mature individuals (Lu et al. 2009). Assuming a similar density across the rest of the species's range, a very preliminary estimate of global population is therefore c.290,000 (Lu et al. 2009). It is placed in the band for 100,000-499,999 individuals, assumed to equate to c.66,000-334,000 mature individuals.

Trend justification
Population trends of this species have not been well studied across most of its range, however it is suspected to undergo a decline of 25-29% over the next three generations, owing to the expected impacts of diclofenac use in livestock. Veterinary use of diclofenac is less common within the breeding range of G. himalayensis so adults are unlikely to be exposed, but juveniles may be when they migrate to lowland areas of India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan (Das et al. 2010; Bothat et al. 2017).

Surveys in Upper Mustang, Nepal, during 2002-2005 revealed a c.70% population decline (Acharya et al. 2009), but following the ban on veterinary use of diclofenac in 2006, the population in this area showed a partial recovery (Paudel et al. 2015). However, vultures continue to die from diclofenac poisoning (Nambirajan et al. 2018), and other threats such as food shortages may also be causing declines in some areas. Siddique & Khan (2016) recorded a 37% reduction in populations at nesting sites and a 21% reduction in individuals counted during transects in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan, during 2005-2010. Although this decline may have been due partly to a large earthquake that occurred in the survey area in 2005, a steep decline in the number of livestock and increased shrub cover reducing visibility of carcasses from the air was also thought to have played a role (Siddique & Khan 2016). Recent surveys in Nepal and Pakistan found that 76% and 60% of respondents respectively agreed with the statement that vulture populations were decreasing in their area (Joshi et al. 2016). The species's population appears to be stable in Dehradun District, Uttarakhand, India (A. P. Singh in litt. 2014), and in the Tibetan Plateau (Lu et al. 2009).

Distribution and population

This species is distributed from western China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, east through the Himalayan mountain range in India, Nepal and Bhutan, to central China and Mongolia. The species is regarded as common in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, China, with wintering populations also found in Yunnan province (Lu et al. 2009, Yang Liu in litt. 2011). It is described as fairly common in parts of Himachal Pradesh, India (especially in Sainj Valley) (V. Jolli in litt. 2014). This species is probably a regular winter visitor in low numbers to the plains of Rajasthan, and in 2013 there were a number of records of vagrants in southern India (Praveen J. in litt. 2012, 2014). It is regarded as a widespread altitudinal migrant in Nepal (C. Inskipp and H. S. Baral in litt. 2011, M. Virani in litt. 2014). It appears to be relatively common in Omnogovi province, especially in Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, Mongolia, and some adjacent massifs (D. L. Yong in litt. 2013).

The species has become an almost annual, but rare, winter visitor to Thailand and the Thai-Malay Peninsula (D. L. Yong in litt. 2011, C. Kasorndorkbua in litt. 2012), and has reached the Riau islands. Since 2006 some 10-30 birds are recorded annually passing through northern Thailand (C. Kasorndorkbua in litt. 2016). It also regularly occurs in Kachin state, and probably also Shan and Chin states, Myanmar (D. L. Yong in litt. 2011, J. C. Eames in litt. 2012), but is probably only a vagrant or rare winter visitor to Cambodia (J. C. Eames in litt. 2012). Most birds recorded in Thailand have been in their first year (C. Kasorndorkbua in litt. 2012). It is a scarce and local, but increasing, winter visitor to Bangladesh, where all birds recorded have been immatures (P. Thompson in litt. 2014). 

The species's population appears to be stable in Dehradun District, Uttarakhand, India (A. P. Singh in litt. 2014), and elsewhere in India and Nepal (M. Virani in litt. 2014), but appears to have fluctuated in the Upper Mustang region of Nepal, where a decline in 2002-2005 was followed by a partial recovery, probably resulting from immigration from Central Asia (Acharya et al. 2009; Paudel et al. 2015).


This species inhabits mountainous areas, mostly at 1,200-5,500 m (X. Lu in litt. 2016), but has been recorded up to 6,000 m (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). In winter it moves lower down, with juveniles wandering into the plains. It feeds on carrion (del Hoyo et al. 1994) and regularly visits carcass dumps in South and South-East Asia (Praveen J. in litt. 2012, T. H. Galligan in litt. 2016, D. L. Yong in litt. 2016).


The most serious potential threat to this species is thought to be mortality caused through ingestion of diclofenac and other vulture-toxic non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) widely used in livestock, particularly in South Asia. Diclofenac has caused drastic declines in three other Gyps species in South Asia since the early 1990s, owing to kidney failure following ingestion, with clinical signs of extensive visceral gout and renal failure, and the drug also appears to be fatal in G. himalayensis (Das et al. 2010). Veterinary use of diclofenac is less common within the breeding range of G. himalayensis so adults are unlikely to be exposed, but juveniles may be when they migrate to lowland areas of India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan (Das et al. 2010; Bothat et al. 2017). The decline noted in the Upper Mustang region of Nepal in 2002-2005 was thought highly likely to be caused by diclofenac poisoning (Acharya et al. 2009). Since diclofenac was banned in Nepal in 2006, this species has seen partial recovery, at least in part of its range in Nepal, (Paudel et al. 2015) and declines in other Gyps species may have slowed and even reversed (Prakash et al. 2012). However, a wide range of NSAIDs, including one containing diclofenac, were found to be still available for purchase in Mustang District as of February 2012 (R. Acharya per C. Inskipp in litt. 2013). Elsewhere in South Asia, diclofenac use has also decreased, but it remains widely used, thus immature birds dispersing to northern India and Pakistan in winter are still at risk (C. Inskipp and H. S. Baral in litt. 2013, K. Paudel and T. Galligan in litt. 2014).

Other potential threats include habitat degradation and a shortage of suitable nesting sites (H. Kala in litt. 2013), as well as the ingestion of herbicides, insecticides and fungicides (Acharya et al. 2009). On the Qinghai-Tibet plateau the main threats appear to be chemical control for pika (Ochotona spp.) and the removal of livestock carcasses (X. Lu in litt. 2016). In Thailand lack of natural food sources has been the sole reason for birds (20 juveniles) being admitted to the Kasetsart University Raptor Rehabilitation Unit (C. Kasorndorkbua in litt. 2012). In Pakistan, increased shrub cover due to a decline in winter grass cutting, promotion of stall feeding of livestock and decreasing nomadic pastoralism may be reducing the visibility of carcasses from the air, while reduced livestock numbers may be further limiting food availability (Siddique and Khan 2016). Electrocution or collision with energy infrastructure is likely to be a threat across much of the range, however there is currently little documented evidence (Botha et al. 2017; MaMing and Xu 2015). There is anecdotal evidence of Himalayan Griffons being caught and kept as pets (Sum and Loveridge 2016). In China, vultures may be harvested from the wild and their parts traded for making ornaments and musical instruments (MaMing and Xu 2015).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Listed on CITES Appendix II, CMS Appendix II, Raptors MOU Category 1. In Nepal the species is considered Vulnerable (Inskipp et al. 2016). The species is covered by a Multi-species Action Plan (MsAP) for the conservation of African-Eurasian vultures (Botha et al. 2017), and by national Action Plans in India (MoEFCC 2020), Bangladesh (MoEF 2016), Nepal (DNPWC 2015) and Cambodia (Sum & Loveridge 2016). Conservation actions to save Critically Endangered Gyps vultures in South Asia, namely the reduction of diclofenac availability and use, through legislation, law enforcement, education, designation of Vulture-Safe Zones, and the promotion of alternative drugs, appears to have benefited Gyps species in South Asia, thus the risk to G. himalayensis is also thought to have been reduced (Prakash et al. 2012, C. Inskipp and H. S. Baral in litt. 2013, C. Bowden in litt. 2014, T. H. Galligan in litt. 2016). A rescue centre has been set up in northern Bangladesh to treat sick or injured Himalayan Griffons (Alam et al. 2018). 

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct surveys throughout the species's range to assess the population trend. Investigate the threat posed by diclofenac, including a situational analysis of the availability and use of NSAIDs throughout the species's range, as well as the potential threats of habitat degradation, limited food availability and limited nest-site availability. Continue to advocate for the enforcement of diclofenac bans, and its replacement with safe alternatives such as meloxicam. Continue to test other safe alternatives to diclofenac. Continue awareness and education campaigns to reduce diclofenac use. Maintain and review network of Vulture Safe Zones. 


Text account compilers
Haskell, L.

Baral, H.S., Bowden, C., Eames, J.C., Galligan, T., Inskipp, C., Jayadevan, P., Jolli, V., Kala, H., Karmacharya, D., Kasorndorkbua, C., Liu, Y., Paudel, K., Sherub, S., Singh, A.P., Thapa, V., Thompson, P., Virani, M.Z.A., Yong, D., Lu, X., Ekstrom, J., Harding, M., Wheatley, H., Symes, A., Ashpole, J, Taylor, J. & Butchart, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Gyps himalayensis. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 22/05/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 22/05/2022.